Leopard's Wrath

He's a man used to getting what he wants, but she's not the type of woman to take things lying down....

Born into a life of crime, Mitya Amurov has had a hard life, and his leopard has developed into a feral beast to protect him. It's constantly trying to claw its way to the surface — until a chance encounter with a stranger instantly calms the predator inside him. While Mitya wants Ania desperately, it's only a matter of time before his past catches up with him, and he'd rather die than put her in danger. But Ania is dealing with dangers of her own....

Considering her family's history, Ania Dover should know better than to get mixed up with a criminal like Mitya, but she just can't stay away. Something wild in her responds to his presence. A need so strong it scares her. But she's not sure she can accept what he's offering. Ania has always been an independent woman, and Mitya expects to be obeyed in all things.

Even with her body calling out for his, Ania won't let anything stop her from settling a deadly score years in the making — not even the man who wants to claim her as his mate.

Christine's Notes

Christine Feehan
Mitya was always a character I knew I wanted to save. To me, he was a lonely character. He had lived so far apart from everybody due to his upbringing. Raised in violence. His leopard forced to become a savage killer in order to save him. Mitya always felt sorry for his leopard and how the leopard was forced to live, what it was forced to become.

Mitya always thought he'd die young. Surrounded by so much death, pain and violence he couldn't imagine a long life for himself, let alone one with a woman and possibly a family. So when he saw Ania he was surprised. He'd always thought he would need a submissive woman, but she was not going to be that, which surprised him even more.

I wanted Mitya's woman to be a true match for him and it took me a long time to come up with the character of Ania. She was strong, outgoing, brave and not a woman who would be pushed around. Mitya had his work cut out for him. But, she was someone who could be a true partner if they could work out their differences.

I think what made them so perfect together was that they shared a trait that was extremely important to each of them. That of loyalty. Loyalty was so deeply ingrained in each of them that they would put themselves on the line because of it. Loyalty was an important ingredient to making the relationship work.

Christine regularly writes about her books (and all kinds of subjects) in the following places:


Leopard's Wrath

More Order Options

Leopard Series ,
Book 12

Release: paperback
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Number of Pages: 432 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Language: English
ISBN: 1984803549

Leopard's Wrath (Leopard Series, #12)

Excerpt: Chapter 1

Mitya Amurov stared out at the drops of rain running down the window. The town-car had tinted glass adding to the darkness, but it was more his sullen mood that kept him from seeing anything but the endless rain. His body hurt all the time. The bullets had torn into him, not only him, but his leopard as well, nearly killing both of them. He wished they had succeeded.

It wasn’t the first time he’d ever been shot, but the experience had left him doing physical therapy and working out harder than ever to recover—for what—he didn’t know. His leopard, always cruel, always clawing for freedom, had become nearly impossible to control. Or it was possible Mitya was just plain tired out from fighting every day of his life to keep his leopard under control. He honestly didn’t know or care which it was. He’d gone past the time of hope for any kind of life.

He knew what he was. He’d known from the time he was born, and his leopard had made him aware of what was in store for him. He’d grown up a criminal. A man hurting others. A man destroying the lives of others. A man who killed. That was who and what he was and no matter how hard he tried to climb out of that world of blood and treachery, there was no getting out. Never. He didn’t have much to live for.

His leopard leapt for the surface, clawing and raking, trying to take him over. As Mitya fought back to stay in control, he thought the cat had responded to his morose thoughts. But then the leopard swung around so abruptly, Mitya’s body did as well. He saw headlights beaming from the side of the road.

"Stop. Miron, stop."

His driver instantly hit the brakes. Ahead of them, the car in front did the same. The one behind them did as well.

"Turn around and go back to that car, the one on the side of the road."

They were on a fairly deserted road, one that led to the country home where he resided. It was in the hills above San Antonio, a beautiful estate where he could run his leopard without too much fear of accidentally running into a human being.

"Mitya," Sevastyan cautioned. "What are you doing?" He turned his head to stare out into the darkness at the car. Headlights prevented any of them from actually seeing and identifying the vehicle. His hand slid to his gun and he sent a quick hand signal to the others in the car to do the same and then spoke into his radio to ensure the other two cars filled with security were ready for anything.

Mitya didn’t answer, but the moment the car was parallel with the parked one, he opened his door before Sevastyan, his cousin and bodyguard, could stop him. A woman stood beside the rear of the car, one hand on a tire. The rain poured down on her, but she stood unbending in it, watching him come to her.

The closer he got to the woman, the crazier his leopard acted. Mitya was no longer a young man, mid-thirties had caught up with him and he had lived a thousand lifetimes in each of those years, all of them with his leopard and he didn’t recognize this behavior. The cat was still clawing at him, still trying for supremacy, but not in his usual aggressive, out for blood and mayhem, for the taste of human flesh manner. No, this time, he felt almost playful.

Playful? His leopard? There was no time, even in childhood, his leopard had felt playful. They had a relationship, a tight one, and his leopard guarded him as carefully as he watched over his leopard, but that hadn’t ever included play.

He was vaguely aware of his bodyguards rushing to surround him, of the furious set to Sevastyan’s shoulders that indicated he was in for another one of his cousin’s lectures, but he didn’t care. He was too busy drinking in the sight of the woman standing there in the rain.

She was on the small side, not at all one of the many tall, svelte models he often fantasized over. He wouldn’t be doing that ever again. She wore a suit, a flared skirt that showed off her shapely legs and a short jacket that seemed to shape her waist, ribs and the curve of her breasts to perfection. All white. Not off-color or ivory, but actual white. The buttons were startling in that they were dark and shaped into cars. It made one want to look closer—which he found he didn’t mind in the least doing.

She looked vaguely familiar to him, but he knew if he’d ever met her, he would have remembered her. As he got closer to her, he realized the skirt and jacket had the images of cars pressed into the material, but also, in white so the fabric looked embossed. Her boots were the same dark color as the unusual buttons.

Her hair was thick and dark, a glossy pelt shining in the flashlights playing over her. Her eyes were large and for a moment shone back at them almost red, but she blinked several times. Enough that he barked an order to his men.

"Stop shining the light in her face." He was already taking the heavy tire out from under her hand where she steadied it. "You will get dirty. Already, you are soaked from the rain."

"Thank you for stopping, but really, it isn’t necessary. I have changed tires before."

Her voice made his gut clench hotly. Hell. Even his cock reacted. It was the way she sounded. Husky. Like sin in the night. Whispers between two lovers. He wasn’t a good talker under the best of circumstances. If she needed someone killed, he was her man, but trying to sound suave and sophisticated was far beyond any ability he had.

Balancing the tire upright, he removed his suit jacket with one hand and tossed it to one of his bodyguards. He didn’t even glance up to see who it was. He indicated her car or his. "You should get out of the rain." He tried not to sound like it was an order, but he’d been giving orders for a very long time, so he was pretty certain by the expression on her face that it came out that way. She looked more amused than angry. Maybe a little confused. "To stay warm," he added gruffly and turned abruptly away from her.

"Boss," Sevastyan hissed it. "Miron can’t drive worth shit, but he can change a fuckin’ tire. Miron, get over here."

"I can change her tire for her," Mitya snapped, embarrassed that she might think he couldn’t. He wanted to stare at her for the rest of the night. He wanted his leopard to keep up the strange behavior. He sensed that this woman, in some way, calmed the dangerous predator in him and having that respite, if only for a few moments, after a lifetime of sheer hell, was a miracle.

The woman’s gaze jumped to Miron and a small smile briefly curved her mouth, drawing his attention to it. She had the kind of mouth he’d fantasized over. Leopards were oral creatures, and he instantly became fixated on that perfect bow. He wanted her lips stretched around his cock, those enormous eyes looking right into his. The predator in his leopard may have turned playful, but that trait in him leapt to the forefront. He wanted to taste her. Bury himself in her. Claim her. Every possessive, jealous trait he hadn’t known he had leapt to the forefront.
"I’ve got it, boss," Miron said and removed the tire from under his hand.

Mitya gestured toward his town car. She hesitated, looking at the force of men surrounding them. Sevastyan, thankfully, had put his gun away. Vikenti and his brother Zinoviy hovered close, but both had also concealed their weapons. The brothers were large and looked exactly what they were, as did Miron. Sevastyan appeared more civilized than all of them. None seemed as intimidating as Mitya. He looked a dangerous man. He carried himself that way without thinking about it. When one had been shaped from birth into a weapon, it didn’t go away until one died.

"I’m Mitya Amurov," he said.

Again, she hesitated, as if perhaps, she’d heard of him. If that were so, he wouldn’t have been surprised. It was no secret he’d been shot. The news articles had a field day with speculating whether or not he was part of a much larger crime family—and they would have been correct. Or at least, correct as they knew it.

Mitya held the door while Vikenti stupidly held the umbrella over him instead of the woman. He snapped at the man in Russian. "Her, Vikenti, be a gentleman."

Vikenti immediately shoved the umbrella over her head and she sent Mitya a smile that tightened his belly and put steel in his cock. She was beautiful. Truly beautiful. Up close he could see her skin. It looked so soft he longed to touch it. Her lashes were long and thick and her eyes, in the lights spilling from both cars’ headlights, even in the rain, looked more violet than blue. She stepped past Mitya and slid gracefully onto the heated leather seats.

Mitya was certain he detected a little sigh of pleasure when the warmth in the car enveloped her. Before he slipped in with her, he glared at his bodyguards, warning them off. Again, Sevastyan didn’t like it, but he nodded curtly. There was going to be another lecture and Mitya knew he deserved it, but it didn’t matter. He needed this. His leopard needed it. It wasn’t like this was going to happen ever again, so he was taking it while he could, and consequences be damned. He took his jacket back, slid in beside her and slammed the door closed.

"Your bodyguards aren’t going to be very happy with you," she said softly.

She smelled of rain. Of some exotic, spicy flower he couldn’t name. She’d been to a restaurant, and she’d been there with a man. He could smell the various scents on her. His leopard didn’t like that anymore than he did, but he consoled himself with the fact that she had driven home alone. Due to his counterpart, he had an acute sense of smell and he couldn’t detect the faintest scent of sex on her.

"They are bossy," he agreed, deciding it best to just admit he had bodyguards. He was surrounded by them. There was no denying it. "I’m sorry I don’t have a towel, but you can use my jacket. That might help."

"I don’t want to get it wet." A little shiver went through her in spite of the warmth of the car.

He slipped his jacket around her. "No worries." That was it. The extent of what he had to say. He just fell silent, and tried not to stare, feeling as silly as his killer leopard had become.

"I’m Ania," she said. "It’s nice to meet you. May I call you Mitya?"

"Yes, yes, of course." He was grateful Sevastyan wasn’t in the vehicle with them. She had a Russian name and she pronounced it with the faintest of Russian accents. His cousin would be immediately suspicious she was an assassin come to kill him. He wouldn’t have minded so much. His cat was content and at that moment so was he. It would have been a good moment to go out.

"I really do know how to change a tire, but it was miserable out there and I do love this outfit. It would have gotten ruined." Her fingers made a neat crease in the material, and then folded it through her fingers as if she might be nervous.

It was a small gesture, but Mitya was trained in noticing the least reaction in those he interrogated, so reading her was easy. She was nervous being alone in the car with him.

"Why did you trust me enough to get into this vehicle with me?" he asked, his hand settling gently over hers to still her restless fingers. The silk of her skin was there. In spite of the cold, her touch made him warm all over. She didn’t pull her hand out from under his.

"You were nice enough to stop for me," she replied. "No one else did, not that there were many people driving by tonight."

"Where are you heading?"

She turned her head to stare directly into his eyes. He had the feeling he was being studied. He didn’t look harmless. If anything, he looked like the very devil. He didn’t have a reassuring smile he could send her. If he tried to smile she’d probably leap from the car in fear. The best he had was the truth.

"Please don’t think you have to answer that. It was thoughtless of me to even ask. I’m not used to talking to women."

Her eyebrow went up, lending her the most adorable expression he’d ever seen on a woman. She turned in the seat toward him, continuing to study him feature by feature. Her gaze drifted over the angles and plains of his face, noting every scar. His eyes were darker than most of the Amur leopards. Many had lighter blue-green eyes. His were a darker blue-green, almost a dark cyan. When he shifted, his eyes blended with the darker rosettes in his long, thick fur.

"I would expect that women fawn on you."

He didn’t deny what was true. He’d always had his choice of women. "Only because they believe I am someone exciting or that I have money."

"Exciting? You mean as in dangerous?" She gestured toward the bodyguards. "Or famous. Should I know you? Your name sounds familiar."

He sighed. He was tired. Too tired. His body hurt so fucking bad he wanted to stab himself through the heart and get it over. He was a shifter and he didn’t take pain pills. If he was out of it, his leopard could escape and kill someone. He leaned back on the seat, enjoying the fact that she sat close and his leopard was satisfied just with her near. He was as well.

"I’m no one special, Ania. These women, once they learn this, no longer fawn." He kept his smile to himself. One small trace of his leopard and those women were running for their lives. None wanted him. They wanted what he had. Or what they perceived he had—which was nothing of real value. His cousin, Fyodor had something valuable with his wife, Evangeline. Timur, another cousin, had it with his woman, Ashe. He could offer a woman danger. Bullets. Death. He could offer her...him. He was no prize. He never would be.

"Everyone is special in their own way, Mitya," she said softly.

"Perhaps. How did you come by the name of Ania? This is Russian, not American."

"It’s a family name. My grandmother was named Ania. She came to the United States as a child with her family, although they only spoke their native language and it took her a while to speak English. She never seemed comfortable speaking English. My grandmother was an amazing woman. She spoke only Russian at home, as did my grandfather and parents. I did as well, which explains my accent."

"Did your grandmother know how to change a tire as well?"

She burst out laughing. The sound was melodious rather than jarring. It held that soft, husky pitch he’d come to associate with her, but now it was mixed with something else, some sweet note that wrapped around his heart, shaking him. Women didn’t laugh around him. He was used to them wanting him, but not this—not simply finding enjoyment in anything he said.

"I suppose a wagon wheel. I wouldn’t have been surprised at anything she could do."

"But you lost her?"

She nodded. "Some years ago in a car accident. My mother, grandmother and grandfather were coming back from a theater production of the Phantom. It was their absolute favorite. I was supposed to go that night as well, but I ended up sick. I’d grown up going to the theater and had seen it, but I was still disappointed. My father stayed home with me."

"I’m so sorry," he murmured. "I would never want to bring up anything to cause you sorrow." He could hear lies. It was a shifter trait. Something wasn’t quite right with what she told him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

"As I said, it was three years ago. I have wonderful memories of my mother and grandparents. Do you like theater?"

A memory surfaced. The theater in Russia. It was a little chilly, and very dark. The sound of music was loud. A woman’s voice singing, the sound impossibly beautiful, so much so that for a moment he was caught up in the sheer magic of it. Men and women dressed in their finest. The smell of fragrance and cologne. They were there to see the play. He was there to murder four people.

His targets were upstairs in one of the most expensive of booths. They came often and laughed and cried with each subsequent scene. He had thought for a moment to delay the inevitable, so he could hear the star of the theater play singing once again, but he knew the longer he stayed, the more people had a chance to catch a glimpse of him. He had killed them fast and silently and walked out without ever hearing that beautiful voice again.

"I do," he replied carefully. "Although I haven’t had much chance to go." If he did go, he would forever be dividing his attention between watching the production and his back. The bodyguards of his targets had been too busy watching the play to adequately protect their bosses. He’d killed them first.

She tapped her finger beneath his palm, reminding him he had his hand over hers. He hated removing it, but he had no reason to keep covering her hand, so he immediately lifted his.

"I’m so sorry, Ania. I haven’t been around..." He forced himself to stop blurting out what a true loser he was with women. "I’m sorry," he reiterated.

"I liked your hand over mine, Mitya. You’re unusual. Rare. I don’t get to meet men like you very often. I wish we had more time to talk, but I see my tire is back on and your men are standing around in the rain getting soaked. I should go." She scooted across the seat and dropped her hand to the door handle.

He searched for something, anything, to hold her to him a moment longer. "If you are ever in San Antonio, my sister-in-law owns a bakery, The Sweet Shoppe. I’m often there." If she said she knew it, he would be there every day just to hope to see her again.

"In the business district?"

"Right on the edge, although the businesses seem to be growing up around it." He found himself holding his breath, his hand on the other door handle.

"I’ve actually been there once," she admitted. "If I go, I’ll look for you. Thank you again for stopping. It was so sweet of you."

Before he could ask for her number, she pushed open the door. In all things he wanted, Mitya was extremely aggressive. He had no problem picking up women when he wanted some quick relief, but this was different. Very different. This woman mattered in some undefined way he didn’t fully understand. He wanted to stay in her company. His body wanted her with every breath he drew. His leopard wanted to stay close to her.

He lived in hell. It was that simple. What man subjected a good woman to hell? What kind of a man would he be if he even considered it? He took a deep breath and slowly let go of the door handle, forcing himself to turn away from the sight of her walking back to her car, under the umbrella Vikenti provided.

Sevastyan slid into the car and turned toward him glaring. Mitya held up his hand. "I know what I did was insane, Sevastyan. I apologize for making your life so difficult. It wasn’t done on purpose." It wasn’t. He loved his cousin and he had placed Sevastyan in a terrible position. Worse, he’d place Ania in one. Sevastyan could easily have determined her a threat and shot her.

Sevastyan didn’t lay into him the way he should have. Instead, he waited until Vikenti and Zinoviy had gotten back into their cars and Miron was once more behind the wheel. "What made you stop for her?"

Mitya shrugged his broad shoulders. "It was a compulsion. My leopard went wild when we passed her. When we turned back, he acted strange."

"In what way?" Sevastyan pushed.

"Just different. A behavior I’d never seen in him. Not like she was a threat, but more that he was content in her presence. My leopard had to guard me when I was a child. There were conspiracies. I don’t know if you remember or not, but Gorya’s father, Uncle Filipp, was alive then. He had two sons, Dima and Grisha, much older than Gorya. Lazar and Gorya’s older brothers wanted Gorya and his mother dead."

Sevastyan frowned. "How do you know this? You aren’t any older than the rest of us."

Mitya felt older, not that the others hadn’t gone through hell as well. No one lived in their lairs and had it easy, especially his cousins. Their fathers were cruel and expected their sons to follow in their footsteps. They were expected to torture and kill any who might oppose their fathers’ rule.

Mitya’s father insisted the toddler be kept with him at all times. He wanted his son to grow up familiar with torture. With seeing women and children killed if their fathers in any way stepped out of line. He wanted his son to be so conditioned to the violence that he would never so much as blink when he had to do the same things. He heard a lot of things as a toddler, things his father planned.

"Mitya? What really happened to Uncle Filipp? Did Uncle Lazar or my father have anything to do with his death?"

Mitya glanced toward the front seat where Miron drove. The man had proved his loyalty to them, and yet he was still reluctant to talk about family business in front of him. Why? Because his father had drilled it into him never to speak of their business in front of nonfamily members. He had insisted there was no such thing as loyalty. Anyone could betray them and would for a price—including one’s own brothers.

There had been four brothers, Lazar, Rolan, Patva and Filipp. Each had become a vor in the Bratya, the Russian mafia. Each ruled their own lair of shifters. All were very cruel, sadistic men. Talking about them aloud to his cousin was one thing, talking in front of an outsider was something else, but he needed to get over that. He wasn’t ruled by his father any longer. In any case, Miron had been raised in the lair. He knew quite a bit about the Amurov brothers.

"Uncle Filipp didn’t kill Gorya’s mother as everyone has been led to believe," Mitya said. "After Uncle Filipp killed his first wife, he accidentally found the woman who was his true mate. At least my father believed that was what changed him. Filipp suddenly was protesting the bigger plan the family had and he was protecting his wife."

"What plan was that?" Sevastyan asked, frowning. "My father never spoke to me of a bigger plan."

"As a whole, the brothers wanted to take over more territory. I don’t think that would have been difficult, but by that time, the leopards were so blood-thirsty, they would go into a territory not held by shifters and let their leopards loose on the families of the vors. They would kill everyone. Man, woman and child."

Mitya’s head was beginning to pound. The moment Ania had slipped out of the car, his leopard had reacted, going crazy, flinging himself toward the surface, demanding to be free. Since then, he hadn’t been quiet, not for one second. Mitya’s body was already hurting. With his leopard clawing at his insides, as if he could rip his way out of his confines, his body wanted to just lay it all down.

"Mitya, did your father take you along when they invaded other territories?"

Mitya nodded, closing his eyes, but the images were there, stamped forever into his brain. When he tried to sleep at night, those memories looped through his mind, playing out like a horror movie, over and over.

"Every single time. So many nights he let his leopard loose to hunt some unsuspecting tourist who had come to the nearest town when the ships came in. Because we had the port right there, it was easy to get one of the women to lure a man away from the rest of his crowd. Lazar would let his leopard lose and hunt him. Sometimes it was a small group of men. He always insisted I accompany him. In order to keep me from being beaten, my leopard would come out and he would have to hunt with Lazar."

There was shame in the telling. He’d been too young to protect his leopard. His father’s beatings were brutal. He would force the leopard to emerge in spite of Mitya fighting to keep him inside. Once the leopard had surfaced, Lazar would beat the cat until it complied and hunted with his leopard. Each time, the older, more experienced leopard would force the young cat to defend itself. Mitya knew his leopard was being taught to be vicious and given the experience of fighting until the animal was fast and deadly in a battle. It was one thing to teach a teen, but not a young boy.

He shoved his hand through his hair, angry with himself when he realized it was trembling. He turned away from Sevastyan’s too close scrutiny. It was Sevastyan’s job to keep him safe. As head of security, he was the one who interviewed anyone seeking to come into their employ. Mitya taken over a territory in the San Antonio area that had previously been run by Patrizio Amodeo, a crime lord who believed in human trafficking.

Like most crime lords in the States, Amodeo was not a shifter. The man had tried to kill their cousin, Fyodor Amurov and his wife, Evangeline. Evangeline dove off a counter to cover Fyodor, and Mitya had inserted his body between the assassins and both Fyodor and Evangeline, taking the bullets meant for his cousin and his wife.

At the time, he’d acted on sheer instinct, but he knew he had no sense of self-preservation because he was aware his time was up. He was so tired of the fight with his leopard. More than anything, he loved his leopard counterpart. Not one thing was the cat’s fault. The animal had been subjected to horrific beatings from Lazar and more from Lazar’s leopard. Both took delight in their cruelty. He didn’t blame the leopard, but he couldn’t allow him loose and that was a constant fight, day and night. At no time could he ever let down his guard. Not when he was tired, sick, alone or in desperate need of a woman.

"Mitya." Sevastyan said his name softly. "You were a boy."

Mitya couldn’t remember being a boy. There was no childhood, not with a father like Lazar. He pushed his fingers into the corners of his eyes, wishing there was a way to lay it all down, just for a few minutes. He’d had them, he reminded himself. A few precious minutes. For a moment the need to go back and find the woman was strong, almost overwhelming. Ania. If he took her and kept her, she would give them both peace. God knew, he needed peace.

"I was three or four when he started taking me with him. If I cried, the beatings were worse. I think my first memories were of his fists. The first taste in my mouth was of my own blood."

"And Uncle Filipp?"

"I heard him talking to Lazar. He tried to tell him he had so many sins on his soul. He said it was different when the woman was the right one. His leopard was satisfied and not driving him mad. He saw things with much more clarity."

"Lazar was furious. Really angry. After Uncle Filipp left, Lazar called Filipp’s two older sons for a meeting. Dima and Grisha came that evening. They spewed hatred for Gorya’s mother and him, although he was just a small baby. Lazar told them to hurt their father first, hurt him so he couldn’t move. To wait until he was with Gorya’s mother. Until he was lying on top of her, all spent and relaxed, not on guard. He wanted them to realize that their father had brought this on himself. He had been stupid enough to fall in love. The woman made him weak, vulnerable. She was really the one to kill him."

"He convinced Dima and Grisha that Filipp deserved death because he was in love?" Sevastyan didn’t sound as astonished as he should have.

Mitya nodded. "Lazar said Filipp was no longer sharp. He could easily be overcome. To go into the bedroom, incapacitate him first, but not kill him until both had torn apart his woman and her leopard. He was very specific about needing to be alerted when they were making their move. He would come to oversee, but not participate. It had to be all them."

"What was his purpose in going?"

"I think he was furious with Filipp, that he would ‘betray’ them by falling in love with Gorya’s mother. He wanted to see him punished. Filipp dared to find happiness, something Lazar, Rolan and Patva would never do." Mitya looked down at his hands. "Something few of us will ever be able to do."

Sevastyan’s breath caught in his throat, an audible reaction. Mitya didn’t dare look at him directly. His cousin definitely saw too much.

"Mitya, there is much to live for. Fyodor and Timur both found their true mate. This woman you met tonight..."

"I deliberately didn’t get her phone number. Or her last name. It is tempting to believe she could save me, save Dymka." More than anything he wanted his leopard saved. Dymka meant smoke as in fog or mist and it was an apt name for his big cat. At times the leopard had been extraordinary, slipping into places in plain sight, yet was never seen.

"I would never want to bring a woman into my private hell. You and I both know Lazar is going to come for me. If he deliberately had Filipp’s two sons kill the woman his brother loved in front of him and then kill him because of a perceived betrayal, you can imagine what he has in store for me."

Sevastyan was silent for so long Mitya wasn’t certain he would respond. When he turned his head to look at him, his cousin was staring out the window into the night.

"She was beautiful," Sevastyan finally murmured. "Your woman. All of us felt her. She’s leopard for sure, Mitya. There’s no doubt in my mind."

Mitya hadn’t given her origins that much thought. "She told me her grandmother was from Russia. She was named after her. Ania."

Sevastyan’s head went up. "Seriously? Russian? Mitya, this could be a...". He broke off, frowning. "She looked familiar and she was on the road leading to our estate. The Dover estate borders ours. I investigated the family before we bought the property. They have Russian connections and a daughter. My guess, she’s the daughter. I’ll do some checking when we get back to the house."

"That would make sense being on this road. She loves the theater."

"It has been many years since I’ve been to a theater," Sevastyan confessed. "Perhaps we need to do a little more than sit around planning out how to stop criminals such as ourselves." He flashed a small grin at his cousin.

"Once I’m finished with this fucking physical therapy some sadist has planned for me, I think it would be a good idea." Perhaps going to a theater production would help make him interested in life again. Or maybe he could run into Ania there.

"Tell me how Gorya came to live through the slaughter that night," Sevastyan insisted.

Mitya took a deep breath. "My father took me with him. He said he wanted me to see what betrayal looked like. He said he wanted me to see the consequences of betrayal as well. We heard the screams when we entered the house. Her screams." He still woke up with the sound of his aunt’s cries reverberating through his mind.

Sevastyan shook his head. "You had to have been only three or four."

"It was two days before my fifth birthday. My father told me I’d better not cry or make a single sound, or he would let his leopard tear mine apart. To this day, I keep thinking had I tried to call out, maybe Uncle Filipp would still be alive. Of course, her screams meant they had already weakened him in some way, but logic doesn’t seem to have much to do with the horror of a child’s memories."

"Unfortunately, no, you’re right about that. I have a few of my own memories of childhood and there is no logic in the way I think. Our fathers have a lot to answer for."

Mitya had to agree. "I think all the violence they fed their leopards rotted them from the inside out, Sevastyan. I really do. I think that they began to believe they had the right to choose life or death for others. They came to crave hurting others. Hunting them. They were addicted to killing. What else did they have? Not the love of family. Once Lazar was willing to kill his own brother and Dima and Grisha were willing to kill their own father, there was no such thing as loyalty. Not to family and not to the bratya."

Sevastyan nodded his head. The car made a series of turns, a maneuver Miron often made to see if they were followed. Mitya never could understand why they would be followed back to the estate anyone could find out he owned. He never hid the fact that he was there. He used his own name. Mitya Amurov. If Lazar wanted to come for him, he wasn’t going to hide. And there was no doubt that Lazar would come.

"When we entered the room, Filipp lay beside his wife, his head turned toward her. It was easy to see they broke his back. He couldn’t move. He could only watch as they beat his woman to death. It was sickening the way they took such joy in it. The more they hit her, the more savage they became. I swear it was like watching a transformation from shifters to demonic murderers."

Mitya’s stomach lurched at the memories pouring in. His heart pounded alarmingly acting as a counterpoint to the jackhammer piercing his skull over and over. He wished he could forget, but his leopard couldn’t and that meant neither could he. Every detail was etched into his brain for all time. For just one moment, it was no longer his aunt they were beating. He was lying there broken, looking into Ania’s violet eyes.

"When they were finished with her, after beating her to death, the boys took equal delight in doing the same to Uncle Filipp. Gorya started to cry. He was there. In a little crib. He also saw the entire thing. His brothers turned toward him. I think it was their intention all along to kill him. They despised that he was born of a mother who loved him when their mother had never loved them. Their mother despised their existence from everything I once overheard Uncle Filipp telling Lazar."

"I suppose they helped their father kill her." Sevastyan sounded weary.

Mitya glanced at him sharply. "Are you all right, Sevastyan?" He felt selfish, thinking only of himself and the way the painful memories hurt. He hadn’t considered that his cousin also had memories, none of which could be very good. "I should have thought about how telling you this would affect you."

Sevastyan shook his head. "I need to know. More, Gorya needs to know. We all thought his father killed his mother and he was too young, so he was sent to Fyodor and Timur’s mother to raise."

Mitya shrugged. "That was the story Lazar decreed everyone tell. He didn’t want Rolan or Patva to know he had anything to do with Filipp’s death. Dima and Grisha agreed only because they wanted to take over the territory and if they didn’t do as Lazar said, he threatened to expose them to the world that they had killed their own father. After that, he would allow his leopard lose on them. They didn’t want that. No one ever wanted to face Lazar’s leopard."

Mitya had faced the vicious cat daily. When his father didn’t like something he did, toddler or not, boy or not, teen or not, he was subject to the wrath of the animal. He had the scars all over his body to prove it, as did his cat. Now his own leopard was a vicious monster. His father had succeeded in that. He was equally as good a fighter. He was fierce and blood-thirsty. Difficult to control. Wild. Feral even. His father had seen to that. His father had made absolutely certain that Mitya would forever live in hell.

He shoved his fingers through his hair several times, betraying his agitation. "He claimed Uncle Filipp was killed in a fight to take on neighboring territory and Dima and Grisha backed up the story. I was a little kid, and no one was going to listen to me, but just in case I thought to tell someone the truth, Lazar beat the shit out of me. By the time I was eight I didn’t even feel him hitting me anymore. It became my normal."

Sevastyan sighed. "I know my father worried Uncle Lazar beat you too much. I would hear him talk to his men, cautioning them that they could do too much damage to a child beating their sons the way you were beaten."

"Lazar didn’t beat loyalty into me," Mitya said. "He taught me how to hate. He taught my leopard how to hate. How to feel that terrible burning need for vengeance." He looked down at his open hands and then closed his fingers into a tight fist. "I want him to come after me, Sevastyan. This time, I’m not a little boy. This time, I’m prepared to die just to take him with me."

Sevastyan sat up straighter as the vehicle pulled up to the tall gates with the beautiful scroll work. The code was punched in and the gates swung open, allowing them to continue up the long drive to Mitya’s estate. Behind them, after the two other cars with members of the security force, essentially the number of men Sevastyan insisted guard him when he went out, followed through, the gates closed.

"Mitya, you don’t throw your life away to kill Lazar."

Mitya didn’t respond. He didn’t consider that it was throwing his life away. Lazar was evil, a terrible malevolent presence on the earth. Anything he touched was tainted with a foul, vile energy. He had to go. The problem was, and it was the reason he had followed his cousins to the United States, he didn’t fear going up against his father. He knew his every move. Dymka knew his father’s leopard’s every move. He didn’t doubt that in a fight they could win. He had a problem with the morality of killing one’s own parent.

He didn’t want to say that aloud. Not to Fyodor and Timur who had killed their father. He didn’t judge them. He knew Fyodor had saved both Timur and Gorya from certain death. He didn’t want to get into a moral discussion with Sevastyan either. He honestly didn’t know where he stood. He had left the country and he had joined with Drake Donovan and the others in their plan to rid the world of the worst of the leopards choosing criminal activities in the States. It was the best he could do to make up for the life he’d led before he had gotten out of Russia. There was a price tag on his head. There always would be. There would be no forgiveness from the bratya, primarily the leopards running the territories.

"When one welcomes death, he has nothing to lose in a fight," he explained to his cousin. "He always has the advantage. Lazar taught me that and he’s right. I hate that he might be right about anything but having nothing in this life gives me an advantage."

"This woman..."

"I would never bring a woman into my personal hell. I know Lazar is coming. You know it as well. I would be divided. Need to protect her. Want to live for her." She would be his Achille’s heel. Maybe she already was. He would keep his distance to ensure she would never come to Lazar’s attention. "The things he would do to her to punish me...". He broke off shaking his head. "No. I’ll never go there." He said it firmly, meaning it.

Featured Videos

Leopard's Wrath

He's a man used to getting what he wants, but she's not the type of woman to take things lying down....